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Airport radar problem talks -- Scotland looks at 375 MW

Electricity generator and retailer ScottishPower is asking the Scottish Executive for permission to turn an open-cast mine into a wind farm and bird habitat. The £70 million wind farm -- 67 turbines totalling 134 MW -- would be one of the largest in the UK. The site is a derelict open-cast mine at Black Law near the village of Forth in South Lanarkshire.

ScottishPower has teamed up with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) to develop a bird habitat management plan, integrating nature conservation, wind farm operation, and other land uses over a ten square kilometre area. The aim is to enhance biodiversity and will involve felling areas of conifer plantation and restoring these to grassland, increasingly rare blanket bog and broadleaved woodland. The open-cast area will be turned into shallow wetlands and other habitats.

The Black Law proposal follows an application by ScottishPower earlier this year for a wind farm at Whitelee, on Eaglesham Moor near Glasgow, which at 240 MW could be Europe's largest. Together, the two wind farms would meet more than 50% of the government's renewable energy targets for Scotland.

Glasgow airport

The Whitelee project, however, has run into objections from Glasgow Airport. Its owner, Scottish Airports Ltd, says the wind farm, 20 kilometres from the airport, would cause snowscreen on its radar. This means that air traffic controllers would not be able to tell the difference between a blip from an aircraft and a blip from a wind turbine, threatening the lives of airline passengers flying into the airport, says a spokesman. The turbines would create a 730 square kilometre air exclusion zone around the site.

He points out that the airspace above the proposed wind farm is a holding area for banking incoming aircraft. "So the amount of time that they would disappear (from the radar screens) would not be acceptable. Safety has to be a priority," he says.

ScottishPower, however, believe that Scottish Airports' objections can be overcome. The companies have been talking about the problem, says Debbie Harper from ScottishPower. The airport would be able to see the turbines on its screens, she says. "But we know there are technical solutions to it, and there are other airports with wind turbines close by that do not experience problems," she says.

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